This past Friday and Saturday we got the pleasure of meeting and working with Jon Kolko. Jon is the author of (now two) books that our program uses for reference: "Exposing the Magic of Design," and "Wicked Problems: Problems Worth Solving."  Through his new Austin Center for Design, he has developed a day-long bootcamp focused on teaching and practicing the design process in the context of "wicked" social issues.

On Saturday, we came together from 9am to 5pm to learn the methods and tools and to collaborate with multi-disciplinary teams. The topic for the day was "health and wellness," and my team's specific theme was "health and wellness in food preparation."

To begin, we identified populations to approach for our research, established the observation criteria we would follow, formulated open-ended interview questions we wanted to ask, and found locations that our target population would be at that given time.

The populations we identified were: grocery stores, farmers markets, and restaurants. For the observation criteria we followed "A-E-I-O-U," which stands for Actions, Environment, Interactions, Objects and Users. The interview questions we formed were: Where does the food you serve come from? Describe your routine, what do you do before/after serving the food? Do you eat the food you serve? If so, do you like it?


After forming our research plan, we headed to Reading Terminal Market, a year-round, indoor farmers market to observe and interview:


Our next location for research was food trucks on 12th and Market and 15th and Walnut, and some other observations along the way:


Our final stop for research was our local dining hall, where we were able to speak with the Manager. We can back to the studio and continued working through the design process. Our next step was to capture our research onto pink/red sticky notes and through affinity diagramming, begin to arrange them into categories/themes. Once some categories had been created, we synthesized the data by combining "what we saw" with "what we know" to form provocative statements of insight (written on the yellow stickies). These statements may be true or false, but they were rooted in our actual observations and our own personal experiences. One example we came up with was: "The disconnect and lack of transparency in the process of bringing food to your table creates knowledge gaps to learn about health."


For the next step, we wrote down 30 patterns that we could recall from the different categories of technology, politics, fashion, music, and sports onto blue sticky notes. Once those were completed, we began to form the design ideas. To do this, we grabbed a random yellow sticky note with an insight and a random blue sticky note with a pattern and for one minute we each wrote down creative, innovative design ideas that jammed together the insight and the pattern. These ideas got written onto a green sticky note. This was my favorite part of the process because it required the most imagination and creativity!


After we had a great number of ideas, we merged a couple similar concepts to use as the "design seed" for the prototyped idea. The workshop provided the artificial constraint of an iphone application and we started to form a story about a user-persona who would work through the scenario of our idea. This narrative then manifested into a sketch and wire framing of an interface for the app.


By the end of the day we were all exhausted, but at the same time, excited to have experienced how effective the process is for designing for social impact. The best parts of the day were the insightful conversations about design's changing role in the world, and how the content of design projects are not critiqued the same way form, construction and craftsmanship are, and how maybe it is time that we start questioning how impactful and meaningful our content is too.